Dec. 16, 2019
Strong finish for 2019 beef production
By Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
Sharply higher carcass weights recently have boosted beef production; though another round of winter weather currently hitting parts of cattle feeding country may temper that in the last few weeks of the year. After spending much of the year below year ago levels on a weekly basis, carcass weights moved sharply higher in October and November, not only approaching seasonal peaks but higher year over year compared to the same period last year. Steer carcass weights likely peaked in mid-November at 912 pounds, though weights have dropped only one pound from that level in the most recent two weeks of data. In 2018, steer carcass weights peaked one week earlier at 904 pounds. Steer carcass weights have averaged 7.5 pounds higher year-over-year for the past eight weeks of data. For the year-to-date, steer carcass weights are still down year-over-year but are now down just 2.7 pounds compared to last year.
Heifer carcass weights likely peaked at 742 pounds the third week of November and have dropped two pounds since then. One year ago, heifer carcass weights peaked the last week of November at 838 pounds. Heifer carcass weights have been higher year-over-year for the past seven weeks but have averaged 4.0 pounds below year ago levels for the year-to-date.
Sharply higher carcass weights recently reflect better feedlot conditions and performance in the last quarter of 2019 after lots of struggles earlier in the year. Data from the KSU Focus on Feedlots shows that average daily gains in feedlot were down through the first three-quarters of the year with simultaneously poor feeding efficiency resulting in higher feed to gain ratios over the same period. The result was lower carcass weights despite the fact that days on feed were higher year-over-year for the bulk the year until recently.
Steer and heifer slaughter is projected to be up about 0.8 percent year-over-year compared to 2018 with total cattle slaughter up about 1.2 percent at 33.4 million head. Combined with modestly lower carcass weights, total beef production for 2019 is projected to be up 0.6 percent year-over-year at 27.0 billion pounds, just a few pounds shy of record U.S. beef production in 2002.
Poor feedlot conditions and performance likely contributed to a reduction in Choice grading percentage that extended from late in the second quarter well into the fourth quarter of the year. The result has been an unusually wide Choice-Select spread in the second half of the year that has only recently narrowed back to more typical levels for this time of year. Since June, the weekly Choice-Select spread has averaged $22.84/cwt., compared to $12.09/cwt. for the same period last year. The most recent weekly Choice-Select spread was $14.67/cwt.
Boxed beef prices peaked in mid-November with a weekly value of $240.66/cwt. for Choice and $215.52/cwt. for Select. The current mid-December level of $219.14/cwt. for Choice and $204.47/cwt. for Select compares to Choice boxed beef at $213.11/cwt. and Select at $201.61/cwt. one year ago.
It is time to begin the early evening feeding of the spring-calving cows
By Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
Each year in December, it is time for a reminder to change the feeding schedule for part, if not all of the spring-calving cow herd.
It is generally accepted that adequate supervision at calving has a significant impact on reducing calf mortality. Saving every calf is always important to the bottom line, but takes on additional urgency when profit margins are narrow. On most ranching operations, supervision of the first calf heifers will be best accomplished in daylight hours and the poorest observation takes place in the middle of the night.
The easiest and most practical method of inhibiting nighttime calving at present is by feeding cows at night; the physiological mechanism is unknown, but some hormonal effect may be involved. Rumen motility studies indicate the frequency of rumen contractions falls a few hours before parturition. Intraruminal pressure begins to fall in the last 2 weeks of gestation, with a more rapid decline during calving. It has been suggested that night feeding causes intraruminal pressures to rise at night and decline in the daytime.
The concept is called the Konefal method. A Canadian rancher, Gus Konefal reported his observations in the 1970s. In a follow-up Canadian study of 104 Hereford cows, 38.4% of a group fed at 8:00 am and again at 3:00 pm delivered calves during the day, whereas 79.6% of a group fed at 11:00 am and 9:00 pm actually calved during daylight hours. In a more convincing study, 1331 cows on 15 farms in Iowa were fed once daily at dusk, 85% of the calves were born between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm.
Kansas State University scientists recorded data on 5 consecutive years in a herd of spring calving crossbred cows at the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Center at Hays, Kansas. They recorded the time of calving (to within the nearest one-half hour). Births that could not be estimated within an hour of occurrence were excluded. Cows were fed forage sorghum hay daily between 4:00 and 6:00 pm. For statistical purposes, the day was divided into four-hour periods.
Between 6:00 and 10:00 am, 34.23% of the calves were born;
Between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, 21.23% of the calves were born;
Between 2:00 and 6:00 pm 29.83% of the calves were born;
Between 6:00 and 10:00 pm, 8.41% of the calves were born
Between 10:00 pm and 2:00 am, 4.4% of the calves were born
Between 2:00 am and 6 am, 1.91% of the calves were born
It is interesting to note that 85.28% of the calves were born between 6:00 am. and 6:00 pm. This is very similar to Iowa data when cows were fed at dusk. Feeding the forage in the early evening hours undoubtedly influenced the percentage of cows calving in daylight hours. (Jaeger and co-workers. Abstracts 2002 Western Section of American Society of Animal Science.)
At Oklahoma State University, with cows that had round-the-clock access to big round bales, but the supplement was fed at dusk, 70% of the calves came in daylight hours. Some producers choose to put the big bales of hay inside a fenced pasture or lot. The gate to the hay area is opened in the evening to allow cows access to the hay bale(s), then the cows are herded out of haying area to another pasture the following morning to graze throughout the day.
Although, the Konefal method does not let us completely skip the middle of the night heifer checks, this strategy should help us save more calves that need help at delivery and shortly thereafter.